I’ve been going about this in entirely the wrong way.
When I was pregnant for the first time, I was determined not to become one of those parents who complains all the time about being a parent. “Poor me, I never get to go out anymore, I never get to sleep anymore, I never get to have an uninterrupted adult conversation anymore. Boo hoo hoo. Having kids is the worst.” I had lived my share of fun times, I reasoned, I was ready to settle down and have a few boring, grueling years of sleep deprivation instead of lazy Saturdays, board books instead of cheese boards.
And so that’s what I did. I settled down. I dug in. I worked harder at work, I parented with great care and consciousness, and I made the absolute most of absolutely any moment leftover after these two activities were fully addressed at the end of each day. And I didn’t complain. I accepted the difficulty and discomfort of my life the way one might accept the state of the weather or the timing of the sunrise – like it or not, good or bad, there was really nothing I could do to change it. Lack of sleep and isolation from other adults was just a plain old fact of modern parenting, and no matter how bad it was, it was worth it. Because really, the joy and fullness my daughter brings to my life really truly is worth every last ounce of sacrifice.
But then the sacrifice went on. A year passed, another year passed, then another. The sacrifice was real and it was hard and it was really wearing me down. At three (and now going on four) years old, my daughter still didn’t like sleeping, still made most dinnertimes a showdown, and still refused to let us EVER hire a babysitter. And I’m looking back on this now like a slow motion replay of how I became one of those parents who complains all the time about being a parent.
The transition from toddler to child has been challenging to say the least. My daughter is smart, willful, and independent – all qualities that will help make her successful as she grows into adolescence and adulthood, but also qualities that can at times make her a difficult child to rear, and the older she gets, the more it seems these difficulties surface. She has her own ideas and her own plans, and these do not always fall in line with my ideas and my plans. To stay steadfast in my unreachable goal of everlasting patience is difficult to say the least, and it can feel downright impossible with another baby on the horizon. If it’s tough for me to focus on talking my toddler through a tantrum at the end of a long day with a fetus kicking at my cervix, are there even words to describe the degree of difficulty I’m destined for when toddler, baby, daddy and work are all crying for attention at once?
Yes, there are words. And I realize now that the words I choose will determine the experience just as much as the experience will determine the words.
You see, I’ve been going about this all wrong. Over the past month, my ears have started pricking up with each new complaint I lodge. My shoulders have tensed. My mouth has settled deeply into those sad, frowning grooves. Basically I become a big, heavy, boring wet blanket and my daughter responds in kind. The more I disengage, the harder she works to drag me back in, usually by forcing my hand as the household disciplinarian, occasionally by making me remember what really is so amazing about having kids in the first place – joy.
Before becoming a parent, I had a lot of fun. I slept a lot, partied a lot, made lots of art, met lots of cool people, traveled till the wheels on my suitcase fell off. I had a lot of fun, but I did not have joy. As exciting as my pre-parental life was, there was always something missing, an emptiness that was not filled until the moment I met my daughter. In all the hustle and bustle and hurry the fuck up of modern workaday parenting, it’s all too easy to lose track of that joy in the shuffle of deadlines and dustbunnies and daycare closing times. It’s all too easy to just give up and complain about how little fun we all seem to be having, and to be totally honest, preparing to make room for another child in a life already so overloaded has been more daunting than anything else. Until I remembered the joy.
The joy my daughter brings into my life everyday – even on a bad day – is beyond anything I ever could have imagined back when I thought the perfect party and my name on the best seller list were the only things that could ever make me feel complete. Watching her grow from infant to baby to chatterbox child has been beyond magical. And it’s taken me all this time to realize that having another baby doesn’t just mean more sleepless nights and more food stains on the wall, it means more joy.
Or, it means more joy if I let it. If I accept that maybe that perfect party is actually all ages, or that teaching my daughter to write her first storybook may actually be more fulfilling than publishing some here today gone tomorrow memoir. If I manage to focus on what’s right instead of what’s wrong, there is so much still in store.